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Turn down new Hawaii Kai lights


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POSTED: Thursday, August 13, 2009

According to “;Kokua Line”; columns on July 24 and 25, the city is upgrading the lighting on Lunalilo Home Road for safety reasons. Three times as many lights are being installed from Kalanianaole Highway to Koamano Street (Phase I) at a cost of $1.96 million. Phase II will continue from Koamano Street to Hawaii Kai Drive for another $570,000, and Hawaii Kai Drive is in the planning stages for an estimated $4 million. The new light fixtures are 150-watt high-pressure sodium lamps, “;the same as the existing lights,”; according to the city. Despite advances in lighting technology, the city is installing outdated inefficient fixtures that create light pollution and a safety hazard from excessive glare.

When questions were raised about this project at the June 24 meeting of the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board, the board unanimously passed a motion asking the city to put a temporary hold on the job until details about the project were provided and input from the community could be obtained. Instead of holding the project, it appears it has been accelerated. Gerald Hamada from the city Department of Design and Construction attended the July 28 neighborhood board meeting but provided few additional details. Interestingly, he did make an offer to the board: Let the city complete Phase I, and then they will “;leave it up to the (board) to decide whether to continue Phase II and whether to move ahead with Hawaii Kai Drive.”; Why has the city put this offer on the table? If safety issues are so critical that the current project cannot be stopped, re-evaluated and changed, why is it that Phase II and Hawaii Kai Drive can be totally stopped?

Board member Elizabeth Reilly made several suggestions to Mr. Hamada. His response was, “;maybe we'll look into putting the shields on.”; The current (and new) lights are not properly shielded — they send part of their light directly into the sky (wasting energy), and create unnecessary glare that reduces visibility. The American Medical Association recently adopted a resolution regarding outdoor lighting. It states in part, “;be it further resolved, that our AMA support efforts to ensure that all future streetlights be of a fully shielded design or similar non-glare design to improve the safety of our roadways for all, but especially vision-impaired and older drivers.”; The cost for Phase I equates to $14,000 per light pole — at such a high cost, it doesn't make sense for the city to pinch pennies by specifying substandard light fixtures when better-quality, more-efficient light fixtures are available. If the city is concerned about safety, why didn't it specify fully shielded light fixtures to improve visibility, particularly for elderly drivers and in wet weather conditions?

Most of Hawaii's residents use the tradewinds as a natural air conditioner, necessitating windows to be open at night. Will the people who live along Lunalilo Home Road be able to sleep with three times as much light pouring into their homes from the street? If the city were to install fully shielded high-efficiency light fixtures, this problem would be mitigated. Recent research has linked excessive light at night with disruption of the circadian rhythm, and with breast cancer and other forms of cancer.

From an engineering standpoint, it is clearly unnecessary to have the poles so closely spaced. The close spacing creates extra cost, and is ugly; many poles have already been tagged with graffiti. Some poles have been carelessly placed, with one less than 2 feet from a fire hydrant, and another directly above the canopy of two trees.

It seems clear that with its present design, the city will create one of the worst-lit streets in Hawaii. It will be overlit using high-glare inefficient light fixtures. At a minimum, the city should replace all the light fixtures with lower-wattage high-efficiency fully shielded fixtures. The city should explore newer lighting technologies. Dimmable lights are readily available — traffic levels later at night do not justify such high light levels. Electricity for the new lights from Phase I will cost about $21,000 per year at today's electricity cost. More efficient and dimmable lights could easily cut this cost by half.

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Natalie Iwasa has been a Hawaii Kai resident for 20 years and is a member of Livable Hawaii Kai Hui. Richard Wainscoat, Ph.D., is an astronomer at the University of Hawaii.